By Jim Umhoefer
Steele County. 7 miles east of Owatonna on County 19. Highway map index: K-20.
Rice Lake State Park, a popular day-use area, is known by local residents as a good place to see wildlife. The mix of marsh, lake, meadow and woods attracts large numbers of birds, especially during the spring and fall migrations. Because Rice Lake is the only lake of any size in the vicinity, geese, swans and ducks stop here to feed and next. A remodeled interpretive center offers more information about the park's plants and wildlife and features an interesting arrowhead collection.
The spacious picnic area, on a peninsula jutting into Rice Lake, is shaded by tall hardwoods. The cross-breeze refreshes while keeping insects at bay. A small swimming area and a drive-in boat access are on the west side of the peninsula. You can rent canoes in the park for an outing on the lake or to paddle across Rice Lake to one of the five canoe campsites.
The campground is also shaded by hardwoods that screen the 42 (16 electric) semi-modern sites from each other. A primitive group camp, available by reservation, is connected to the main campground by road and trail.
Rice Lake is named for the wild rice that generations of Indians gathered here. The lake is one of the Zumbro River's sources, forming the South Branch of the Middle Fork. The village of Rice Lake, which once flourished north of the park, is marked today only by the Rive Lake Church, built in 1857 and located along Dodge County highway 20.
The park has about 2.5 miles of snowmobile trails. Four miles of beginner cross-country ski trails trace the lakeshore and loop inland. Snowshoeing and winter camping, though allowed are not popular here.